Wednesday, March 16, 2016
A Tale of Two Portraits
Where: National Portrait Gallery
When: Reagan: until March 28, 2016; Spacey: until mid-October 2016
Full disclosure: I didn't like Nancy Reagan. I disliked her less than I disliked her husband, but both of them to me represent the worst of the 1980s: the excess, the disinterest in the less fortunate, the celebrity Presidency. A pretty dreadful time, now that I think back on it. Having said that, I went to see the Portrait Gallery's "in memoriam" display of a TIME magazine cover. I have no beef with the museum putting up portraits of famous people who have died, whether I like them or not. In fact, I'm surprised they didn't have a portrait of Scalia up - could it be they don't own one? That seems unlikely. But I digress...
I went to see the portrait and will offer my thoughts on it as a work of art, and a accurate depiction, setting aside my thoughts on Nancy Reagan as a person. I thought it was a very fine piece. It's easily identifiable as her - which can't be said for every portrait I've ever seen! She's wearing her signature color, red, but is otherwise not depicted in a particularly flamboyant way. No jewelry, the dress is a simple one, and the background is quite plain. This is in keeping with her role in the Reagan administration: she's out front in a way, with her red dresses, but there's lots going on behind the scenes that you don't see. She gave the appearance of a "traditional" First Lady - a wife and mother, concerned about saying no to drugs. In fact, she had a far greater influence on the Presidency than what most people realized at the time.
Across the hall from Reagan is a portrait of the actor, Kevin Spacey as President Frank Underwood, from the Netflix series "House of Cards." I've never seen the show, since I don't have a Netflix account (and I am too attached to the original BBC series to think that another adaptation is necessary). Still, I know the story generally, and it's a good one. The painting is interesting. Spacey as Underwood is depicted as a "man in charge." I noticed that there are blocks in the background, almost as if you're viewing him through a window - perhaps that has something to do with the show? Good picture, I thought, but realize that without seeing the series, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage in reviewing it.
What I noticed was that the Underwood picture was garnering FAR more attention than the Reagan one. Lots of people stopped by and many of them were taking selfies with the portrait. No such adulation for poor Nancy. Her celebrity has faded, only to be replaced by someone pretending to be the President.
Verdict: Go see these two pictures while they're both still up - it's interesting to see which garners greater notice.